Bill Ward and Tom Seaton have been together for 28 years, but they’d never celebrated their partnership with any pomp or pageantry—that is until yesterday, when they were among more than a dozen couples who got married or renewed their wedding vows in the Toronto Botanical Garden at a ceremony dubbed “My Big Fat Gay Garden Wedding.”
Led through the proceedings by Minister Brent Hawkes of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, couples exchanged vows against the garden’s rich, colourful backdrop. The ceremony ended with a group kiss to seal (or reseal) the deal, as dozens of family members and friends looked on. The large wedding party then moved to a nearby courtyard for a reception featuring rainbow cupcakes and cocktails.
Ward and Seaton were recently married in Illinois, a state that began recognizing civil unions as legal and equal partnerships earlier this month. “Just a couple of days ago we did the paperwork for our marriage, but then Bill saw this online and the rest is history,” said Seaton as he and Ward stood next to each other in matching tuxedos and boutonnieres. He described the act of publicly expressing his love as “the simplest, most wonderful right we should all have—and thank God it’s finally becoming simpler.”
Another couple, Kaitlin and Jordan, came from Halifax to be wed, and to take in this week’s WorldPride celebrations. “It was a bit nerve-racking … I’ve never been married before!” Kaitlin said with a laugh. “But it’s amazing to be a part of something so accepting.”
In an interview after the weddings, Hawkes, who is serving as Grand Marshal for this year’s WorldPride festivities, reflected on the historic gay and lesbian marriages he performed more than a decade ago. “On January 14, 2001, I had to wear a bulletproof vest to marry the first gay and lesbian couples anywhere in the history of the world,” said Hawkes. He received a number of death threats for performing the ceremony and lived with a detail of bodyguards for weeks afterward. “When you consider that, to come to this in such a short period of time is amazing.”
For Liz Hood, Toronto Botanical Garden’s director of education and event spokesperson, the chance to host the gathering held a special significance. “We do weddings here all the time, but to me, because I am a member of the LGBTQ community, this is such an amazing opportunity to place Toronto Botanical Garden in the list of institutions in the city that are backing up all of our friends, peers, and colleagues who have been involved in the horticultural industry the whole time.”
Hood added that many of the couples who chose to be married yesterday are still dealing with oppression and a lack of acceptance in their own communities. “When we read through their applications, I don’t think there was one that didn’t move us to tears,” she said. “We’re really pleased that we could be a place where folks from all over could all find a place to celebrate their love.”